What’s Next: Ways to Talk About Careers with Our Kids


What’s next? Parents of high schoolers, and certainly the students themselves, are asked this question over and over. It is daunting to think of setting your life’s direction at age 18! Yet, we have to talk about careers with our kids.

There are never guarantees for the future but the rate of change in the world is greater now than ever. Many jobs (and possibly careers) of today will not exist in 10 or 20 years. And according to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics survey, individuals from ages 18 to 56 held an average of 12.7 jobs!

Since we all need to pick a starting point, here are some ideas when we talk about careers with our kids and what’s next.

Offer information, not pressure, about possible career choices.

Our children soak in and learn a lot about different careers just by observing our own. What hours are we working? How are we balancing family and work life? Do we travel often for work? Do we seem happy? They are paying attention!

School guidance counselors, career counselors, online resources and books are great starting places. And these resources will fill in our own gaps with up-to-date information about possible careers. Two of my nephews have their own businesses rooted in e-commerce, which is still a relatively new career path and one that definitely did not exist when I was starting out.

Try asking open-ended questions to get the conversation going with your kids. Some questions I tried were: What do you love? What comes easily to you? How can you make a living doing this?

Suggest job shadowing, which is a great way for older kids to see if that workplace is an environment where they are comfortable. What do others already in that field have to say about this career? Our son did this and his experience was one of the reasons why he eventually changed his major.

Career immersion camps and volunteer opportunities are also great ways for our kids to explore their interests.

Open conversations about work and money are important.

When I was growing up, I don’t remember having these conversations, particularly talking about money – which was taboo. My husband and I tried to be more open with our kids. We talked about raises and promotions as well as career changes and layoffs. Check out writer Sarah’s tips on how to raise financially literate kids.

Creating budgets for their future selves and showing our family budgets can help instill the realities of how expensive everything is. If college is the likely next step, talk openly about how to pay for it.

Of course, there’s hypothetical and then there’s reality. When our son and daughter did receive their first paychecks they both, to paraphrase Rachel from Friends, questioned “who is this FICA and why did they take my money!”

The choice of career is theirs, it’s not about us.

It seems obvious but a parent’s role is not to create a child’s blueprint for life. But what if there is a family business that you’d love your children to take over? What if your own career is incredibly fulfilling and you think they are suited and would love it as well? What if you regret not pursuing something and hope they will?

More joyful than raising your own mini-me is raising someone who makes their own decisions and finds their own path.

This hits close to home for me. I was steered in a particular career direction that wasn’t really my true calling and I’ve lived with ‘what might have been’ which hasn’t always been easy.

Our kids explored whatever career direction they were drawn to, with some frank discussions about earning potential and risk. Ultimately, it was their choice.

And guess what? They both changed majors, our son transferred schools and our daughter circled back to her original love, music. They made all their own decisions, with our guidance as requested only. I am incredibly proud of both of them.

Kids will figure out what they want, in time.

A career is only one part of life.

Nobody wants to have a job or career where you feel you have little impact on the world or that it is lacking meaning. But a job alone is not what will give meaning to your life. A job is necessary to support yourself and if it aligns with your values and allows you to have a life outside of work then it might just be the right match.

In the best scenarios, “what’s next” continues throughout our life. Don’t be afraid to talk about careers with kids. They have their whole lives ahead of them! 

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Hello, I’m Nancy! I’m a New Hampshire native and have enjoyed living in the Seacoast with my husband, stepdaughter and son for quite a while, decades in fact! I’ve been a software engineer, home stager, a school and community volunteer and a stay-at-home mom. I wrote a weekly running column for Seacoast Sunday/Foster’s Daily Democrat/Portsmouth Herald for many years and reported on road races including my dream assignments at the Boston Marathon. Not surprisingly, I’m an avid runner and am happiest outdoors! Nothing beats the sweet exhaustion after a long and active day spent outside in every season. Our nest is now generally empty with both kids navigating their own adult lives and my husband and I are enjoying our time together and with our two great cats. Motherhood (and life) is ever-changing and I’m adjusting to this new stage and reflecting on how lucky we’ve been.